This letter was written a non-commissioned officer—most likely a sergeant—serving in the 24th Independent Battery New York Light Artillery. This battery was organized as Battery “B,” New York Rocket Battalion, and designated 24th Battery February 11, 1863, having served as such provisionally from October 19, 1862. Attached to Artillery Brigade, Dept. of North Carolina, to January 1863. Artillery Brigade, 18th Army Corps, Dept. of North Carolina, to May 1863. District of the Albemarle, Dept. of North Carolina, to July 1863, and Dept. of Virginia and North Carolina to February 1864. District of Plymouth, N. C., to April 1864. Most of its members were taken prisoner at Plymouth on 24 April 1864 and were sent to Andersonville Prison.
I have searched the roster of the battery looking for sergeants who may have been married, eventually married, or were known to correspond with a woman named “Nellie” (Helen, Ellen, Cornelia, or Eleanor) but could not find one. One thing is certain, the author of this letter was well educated and had superb penmanship. Two sergeants who married after the war who fit the profile who emerge as possible candidates as the author of this letter are:
Julian Wheaton Merrill, the son of Cyrus Merrill, who enlisted at Perry, Wyoming Co., NY, at age 21. “Promoted to Sergeant prior to 30 April `63. Reduced 18 Feb `64. Was Sergeant and Quartermaster of the Battery at Plymouth, NC. Captured 20 April `64 at Plymouth, NC. He was a month in the stockade and was then sent to the hospital, recovered and worked there. He was for a short time at Millen a prison inmate, paroled for exchange 20 Nov `64 at Savannah, GA and reached the Federal lines with little clothing, penniless and hungry. He remained in Gen. Mulford’s office on the flagship New York for a month. Transferred 28 May `65 to Battery L, Third Artillery. Mustered out 8 Sept `65 at New York City, as of 24th Battery. After the war Merrill was with the United States Telegraph Co. for a year and in Mar 1866 was elected Secretary of the North American Life Insurance Co. In May of 1869 elected Vice President and sent to California to restore his health which his war experiences had nearly ruined. He was married April 25, 1867 and was located in New York for many years. During the early days of the war Mr. Merrill, Charles Clark and Charles Dolbeer were the society lions of Perry’s younger set. Merrill lived in the old homestead at 17 Leicester St. He was one of the leading scholars in the Perry Academy which probably accounts for his qualities of leadership and his outstanding intelligence which became so much in evidence during and after the war. During the time he was in Andersonville he seems to have been the guiding genius and it was to him the boys looked for leadership and support. In 1870, Mr. Merrill wrote the History of the 24th NY Battery and produced a very creditable and worthwhile book. It has become very valuable from a historic standpoint. In 1867, Mr. Merrill married a Miss Morgan of the J. Pierpont Morgan family, and that connection undoubtedly accounts for his rapid rise in the service of the North American Life Insurance Co. He died in the Gowanda Insane Asylum in 1912. He enlisted in Perry but is undoubtedly is buried in Gainesville, NY.”
The other possibility was Henry C. Page, the son of the local Perry, Wyoming Co., NY newspaper editor. “He took an active part in mustering men for Captain Lee’s Company. Enlisted 1 Oct `61, at age 27 at Perry, Wyoming Co., NY. Mustered in 7 Dec `61 as a Quartermaster-Sergeant, to serve three years. Reduced to the rank of Sergeant; date not stated. Discharged 7 June `62 for disability at New Bern, NC. Enlisted again 23 Nov `63 at New York City, to serve three years. He was the war correspondent for his father’s paper the Wyoming Times, published in Perry and much of the news received from the front came from him. Captured 20 April `64 at Plymouth, NC. He was at Andersonville and Millen prisons and acted as clerk for Gen. Mulford on the Steamship New York for a month. Paroled 20 Nov `64 at Savannah, GA. Arrived 19 Dec `64 at Camp Parole, MD. Rejoined battery 28 Feb `65. Promoted 1 March `65 to Quartermaster-Sergeant. Transferred 28 May `65 to Battery L, Third Artillery. After the war he taught school in 2 or 3 towns in Missouri and then began practicing law at Maysville, DeKalb Co., MO. He died 8 Feb 1883 in Huron, Beedle Co., SD.” [Source: Civil War Plymouth Pilgrims Descendants Society]
Plymouth, North Carolina
Evening, December 27th 1863
My Darling Nellie,
I have little time at my disposal tonight, but I will improve that little. I commenced a hurried letter to you last week but had no time to finish it and will start anew.
A week ago last Friday P. M., were were suddenly ordered out for cavalry service. We mounted forty men instanter & making hasty preparations started for Lyme county in pursuit of a party of rebels who were said to be there conscripting. We marched fifteen miles, camped about seven o’clock in a large plantation, built fires, cooked our coffee in tin cups, ate supper and fed our horses. Two companies of the 12th New York Cavalry were with us. Guards were detailed, pickets stationed, and we lay down to rest. [William H.] Crooker and I went into a barn, rolled ourselves in our blanket and cuddled down in a pile of bean pods for a bed. They don’t have hay or straw in this country and their barns are usually very forlorn institutions, but in this case the pods made a very good substitute.
It was a cold night, ice frozen thick all around us, and we were routed out at half past three A. M. Men and horses were fed and after a cold, tedious delay of two hours, we started again at daylight. Our course lay along the sound for several miles, sometimes in sight, ad near enough to catch the music of its roar. Then we turned and rode to the head of the Scuppernong, having nothing but indefinite rumors to guide us, but scouring the country thoroughly as we went.
It was a glorious morning to ride—the air so cols and clear and bracing—the sun so bright—the horses so spirited and the men so gay. On we dashed at full gallop and every bound gave a new thrill of pleasure. We crossed swamps full of water and even in the road we went plashing and dashing and scattering and spattering, through water from one to two feet deep, for half a mile at a time. Horses and riders came out dripping, and vigorous exercise must warm them up, so on we rode.
The rebels seemed to be a will-of-the-wisp, for the farther we rode and the more we looked for them, the more we did not find them. Noon brought us to Lake Phelps. You will remember my trip thither in August of which I gave Julia a long description and which I need not repeat.
We were now only now only thirty-five miles from home by the direct route, but we had travelled nearly fifty to reach it. Half an hours rest and we were in the saddle again, proceeding with caution now, for the cavalry had been detached to guard bridges in our rear and our force was rather small. We rejoined then in safety, however, and turning our faces homeward, picked up a few rebel conscripts—some half dozen in all.
Leaving the cavalry again, we went out on a by-road and arrested some others (conscripts, I believe) giving us ten additional [nails?]. We stopped at Downings for supper, got our squad of prisoners together—some in a carts, some on horseback—and rode in by moonlight, reaching here at ten P. M. We had been constantly in the saddle since 6 A.M. with the exception of two half hours and had marched about seventy miles. Of course the horses were jaded and the men rather sore. I bore the fatigue much better than the majority and after a nights rest, was all right again.
While we were gone, Lt. Col. Howard, Chief of Artillery on Gen. Butler’s staff, inspected the remnant of our battery in camp. Nearly all of the non-commissioned officers and best men were gone so that when Howard called for the “foot drill by detachments” and the “mechanical maneuvers,” [Edward H.] Wardwell (who was left in command) was completely stumped.
Howard reprimanded all the officers very severely for their laziness and neglect of duty, adding that if he did not find things in better condition next time, there would be trouble for them all. They were exceedingly mortified and badly frightened for the Colonel praised the appearance & intelligence of the men, but blamed the commissioned officers greatly. As a consequence, they began to drill Monday morning and have kept it up twice a day all the week with a school or exercise for non-commissioned officers in the evening, so that my time was entirely occupied and I could not write my usual letter.
There was not one of the lieutenants (or [Capt.] Cady himself) who could go through the simple maneuver of “dismounting & carrying the piece” correctly, but they had to take a book & learn, while the sergeants instructed the privates—shirking their duty & the burden of their ignorance upon us as they have often done before. I did not intend to say anything on this subject but it is written and I will let it go.
[Remainder of letter missing]